Cacao: Chocolate in Infancy

My recent trip to Costa Rica showed me wonders I never thought I'd see in real life: wild parrots, foraging monkeys, and a river full of crocodiles.  But the most exciting sight to a candy experimenter's eyes?  A real life cacao tree.

Cacao flowers grow on the branches and trunk of the cacao tree throughout the year.* We spotted two tiny flowers sprouting from the main trunk well above our heads.

The flowers become pods, which take 5-6 months to grow to full size and mature.* We could only see one empty pod on our tree, chewed through by a foraging animal.

The beans from this cacao tree are far removed from the chocolate in my gourmet bar.  After harvest, cacao beans must be fermented, dried, cleaned, roasted, and ground before they start to approach what I know as chocolate.*  Furthermore, since this tree was located in Costa Rica's Las Pumas Rescue Center, its beans will never turn up in my chocolate blooming experiments.  Still, as I admired the tree, I felt as if I were greeting an old friend.

*See Stephen T Beckett, The Science of Chocolate, page 14
*See Stephen T Beckett, The Science of Chocolate, chapters 2-3

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